Former Houstonian Billy Harper has the distinction of being the first black member of the famed 1 O’clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas (formerly known as North Texas State University). A member of the all-star jazz group The Cookers
, tenor -saxophonist Harper says, “Somebody told me about this school that had a fantastic music program, North Texas State University. I went there, and they had a heavy music program.” That was in the early 1960s. Harper credits other members of the Grammy Award-winning 1 O’clock Lab Band for pushing for his inclusion in the group and says that while he experienced discrimination from some of the school’s fraternities, race was never an issue with the other musicians. “I was ready to be in the 1 O’clock Lab Band even though I was just 19, and that’s all they cared about. When I first got to North Texas, I thought I already knew everything about music, and then I heard some fantastic musicians playing and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t know anything.’ I decided to really get down to mastering that horn.” By the time the invitation to join the 1 O’clock Lab Band came along, Harper’s efforts had paid off and he was ready.
Harper eventually left Texas and settled in New York, working with Lee Morgan, Max Roach and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He later became a member of The Cookers, a group made up of all-stars Eddie Henderson (trumpet), David Weiss (trumpet), Billy Hart (drums), Cecil McBee (bass), George Cables (piano) and Donald Harrison (alto saxophone). The Cookers will be making a one-night stop at UNT and performing several compositions of Harper’s with the current 1 O’clock Lab Band before making it over to Houston to perform as part of the Da Camera jazz series.
7 p.m. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713‑524‑5050 or visit dacamera.com. $35 to $65.
Fri., Feb. 7, 7 p.m., 2014